My husband Greg’s mother, Shirley, made him Shepherd’s Pie when he was a boy growing up in Oregon. As a girl growing up in Texas, I have had Taco Pie, Tamale Pie and Frito Pie — but Greg had to describe his mother’s Shepherd’s Pie to me. It took me a couple of tries, but it wasn’t long before I served him a slice of pie worthy of his mom’s memory. How I wish I had known her. Greg played me an old video of Shirley when she was about the age I am now, doing the Charleston to the delight of her kids and grandchildren. I am sure we would have loved each other! Shirley passed away much too soon, when Greg was still in his thirties. She would have been 82 years old… today. Happy Birthday, Shirley, I hope you can see how happy, kind and generally all-around wonderful your son has grown up to be, from your window in heaven.
You can see my husband’s feet, as he was standing like a happy, hungry little boy in the background, waiting for me to hurry up and take a picture of this Rustic-Style Shepherd’s Pie so he could carry the hot pan back in the house and enjoy it for supper:)
Over the years, I have simplified the recipe so I can make it faster and easier. By using Golden Potatoes instead of Idaho potatoes, I can simply “smash them” in the pan I cooked them in, without peeling them or using a mixer to make them smooth and fluffy. We like a few chunks of potato and bits of peel in this recipe. These potatoes also taste buttery without having to use a ton of butter. Finally, by baking the mixture in the same iron skillet where I cooked up the gravy, meat and veggies – you save having to wash yet another dish.
Re-creating your mate’s favorite childhood recipes is the closest you can get sometimes, to allowing them to filled “hugged again” by someone they loved as a little boy or girl.
What recipe did your mother or grandmother make that brings you back to her kitchen, and happy moments?
Rustic Shepherd’s Pie in an Iron Skillet
1 ½ lb ground beef
6 fresh mushrooms, chopped
¾ cup corn, frozen
2/3 cup frozen peas
5 carrots, peeled, cooked and sliced or diced (I usually microwave these in a small covered dish with a little water)
1 T. grill seasoning (or 2 t. salt, 1 t. pepper)
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
2 T. flour
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ cups beef broth (if you don’t have this on hand you can mix up some dry onion soup mix with water, or use 1/4 cup miso paste and water, or a a couple of bullion cubes and water to make 1 1/2 cups.)
½ cup red wine
2 T. half-n-half (optional)
6 Golden, thin-skinned buttery potatoes (about the size of tennis balls)
2 T. Ranch dressing prepared
1 T. butter
Half-n-half or milk – approximately anywhere from 1/3 to 1 cup
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Scrub and quarter potatoes, but no need to peel, then place in a large pot with salted water (about 2 t. salt & water about 2 inches above the potatoes).Put them on the back burner to boil and in the meantime…
In a large skillet, lightly brown the beef with grill seasoning, then drain off any extra fat. Then add the mushrooms and cook untl they are soft and have released their juices. Next add the frozen corn, frozen peas and cooked carrots. Heat through.
In a separate iron skillet, make the gravy: melt butter with olive oil on medium high heat. Sprinkle flour over the bubbling oil-butter mixture and stir with whisk to make a smooth paste. Add garlic and stir. Continue to whisk while slowing adding broth and wine, stirring and simmering until gravy has thickened. You don’t want it to be too thick… as more liquid will evaporate with baking and some will soak into veggies.
Carefully pour the meat and veggies into the gravy. Add half-n-half if you desire a creamier gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings. Turn off the heat while you smash the potatoes.
Drain the boiling water off of the potatoes when they are tender, leaving hot potatoes in the hot pan. Add Ranch dressing, butter and half-n-half or milk, ¼ cup at a time and smash (with skins on) with a potato masher. (Don’t use a mixer as there is too much gluten in golden potatoes and you’ll end up with glue.) Season potatoes with salt and pepper to taste.
Using a large spoon, gently put mounds of potatoes over the beef and veggie mixture, and spread evenly to the edges of the skillet.
Place in 350 oven for 20 minutes or until heated through and tops of potatoes begin to get a little golden.
Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes and serve. When it is fresh and hot out of the oven it is easier to serve in wide bowls, but the next day, after refrigeration, you can slice it like pie, heat up in microwave and serve.
I like to serve a few fresh slices of tomatoes with this dish and call it dinner!
(Becky, the Mama)
In a week like this one, in a world like ours, sometimes we just need to turn off the TV, shut down the social media, get still and reach for a tall drink of Peace.
In truth, the only guarantee we have for peace, have ever had really, is peace from God that blankets our minds and heart no matter what is happening around us. (In fact, we are guaranteed that “in this world you WILL have trouble.”)
This peace is found in images of Christ asleep in the boat in the midst of a storm, in birds that don’t worry about where or whether they’ll find food, and flowers that don’t fuss about what they will wear. It is found in not worrying about tomorrow because we only get 24 hours worth of grace at a time, like manna. (Matthew 6).
“I am leaving you with a gift–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” John 24:27 33
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
The best thing we can do in times of overwhelm is find our center of peace in Christ’s example and his words; ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with peace beyond human understanding, and then become Living, Breathing, Relaxed, Trusting, Walking Peace in and to a troubled world.
“Peace, Be Still”
Greg and I went road trippin’ for the last 3 weeks, driving from Denver to Oregon to visit friends and family. We alternately brainstormed business and book ideas, listening to 60’s music and audio books. We may go for miles and hours without a word, but you’d be hard pressed to find a happier or more content couple on a car trip than we are. “I just love driving with my Baby,” Greg said. “I love it too. But what do you like most?” I asked. “It is just you and me, alone, together.” We love people. Adore our family and friends. In fact we just said good-bye to two weeks of family in our home, here to celebrate my youngest son’s wedding to his darling bride.
Rachel and Jared and little Jackson drove up and stayed for almost a week, and I was … simply put… in Nonny Heaven the whole time. The morning after they drove away, I sat on the porch swing, looking at the strewn toys and “fire hose” that Jackson used to put out the “flower fires” for me, and had a good hard cry missing the sound of his sweet, cheerful voice waking me up with, “Hey Nonny! Let’s go outside and play.”
My sister and my nieces — who love to cook (and eat!) – joined me in the kitchen, whipping up goodies with unabashed joy.
My parents, too, came to bless us with their always-encouraging presence. They prayed for us as we left them in charge of our house today, sending us off with travelling mercies and love.Every single moment of the last two weeks was a delight. That said, there is nothing quite like the quiet joy of being alone together, a party of two, with lavish amounts of unpressured time. The busier our lives, the larger our circle of family and friends, these times feel more and more like a luxury.
And there is something about being together in the car for miles on end that recharges us. ***** After I wrote the above, we enjoyed several more days of being alone together in pretty Oregon hotel rooms before arriving at the coast for a family reunion with my husband’s brother and sister and kids & more, where there are anywhere from 10 to 15 people coming for dinner on any given night. I had planned to cook something simple and easy for the first night: I’d just buy a few deli-roast chickens for main course. Unfortunately, the chickens at the beach-side grocery store were closer to the size of sparrows, but cost as much as filet mignon. I quickly recalculated a cheaper Plan B. Boneless chicken thighs were on sale, feed a bunch on a budget, absorb marinade quickly, cook fast and are generally juicier than breasts. I decided to make my old favorite recipe for tequila lime chicken, which basically involves marinating chicken pieces in a giant margarita until they get relaxed and happy and just a little bit tipsy. If you poke the boneless thighs with a fork before marinating, they absorb the yummy juices much faster so that in less than an hour they are ready for a quick grilling on both sides, to create a delicious chicken dinner that will put a silly grin on everyone’s face.
Lime Margarita Chicken Thighs
Serves 4, allow 2 boneless thighs per person)
8 boneless chicken thighs
Juice of 2 limes and 1 orange (If limes are small and not very juicy, as is sometimes the case, I will add juice of a lemon, too.)
¾ cup tequila
¼ cup agave nectar
Grill Seasoning (Or salt, pepper, garlic powder)
Directions: Poke chicken thighs several times with a fork. Sprinkle both sides of the chicken with grill seasoning. Mix citrus juices, tequila, and agave nectar and pour over the chicken, coating and submerging chicken pieces into liquid as much as possible. Let them hang out in the “margarita marinade” for an hour.
At this point you can grill the chicken pieces on an outdoor bbq grill or on a grill pan or skillet (graced with about a tablespoon of olive oil) indoors. Grill just a few minutes on each side on medium high heat until thighs are golden brown on both sides. Put them on a large warm oven proof plate and cover with foil to let juices form and flow before serving. Spoon juices over the top before serving.
As you can see in this picture, I served the chicken, as over a bed of freshly sautéed spinach and a quick salad of corn, tomatoes, and avocado. Another fun way to serve these are to arrange grilled thighs (just slightly overlapping) in a pretty oven-proof platter or oblong Pyrex, sprinkle the whole dish with shredded cheese and some crumbled tortilla chips and run them under the broiler (heat source about 8 inches from pan) until the cheese melts and tortillas are golden Then you can top the whole dish with diced tomatoes, avocados and chopped jalapenos or green onions or cilantro for your next fiesta. *Alcohol cooks out of this recipe, but the distinctive sweet-tender taste that the tequila leaves behind is delicious.
(Becky, the Mama) Now that summertime is here in Colorado, it is hard for me to stay away from the perfect weather on our inviting back porch!
We nap, visit and eat outside as much as humanly possible. Yesterday, we hosted a group of young couples and little ones for an outdoor brunch. A friend dropped by last night and we enjoyed a plate of nachos and cool drinks as we rocked and swung and chatted in the evening breeze. Tonight we had some dear friends and their little girls over for an old-fashioned supper-on-the-porch that brought back memories of meals around my own grandmother’s table. I made garlic & lemon roast chicken, baked sweet potatoes, Asian peanut buttery green beans (recipe to come soon!), corn, and my simple rustic, pastry-style cherry-blueberry cobbler (a festive July 4 recipe, by the way, with a little scoop of vanilla ice cream and raspberrg sorbet).
But it was the refreshing side-dish that I prepared for tonight’s meal that made me wax nostalgic for potlucks and picnic tables of my childhood: sweet n’ sour refrigerator pickled cucumbers & onions. I updated this beloved Grandma dish by using the small Asian or Persian cucumbers that are often sold in little packages of six to twelve, and becoming increasingly popular in grocery stores everywhere. Sliced a little on the thick side they hold their crunch for days in this pickling liquid. I like to keep a container of these marinated cucumbers and onions hand in the fridge all summer long to add a crisp, cold delightful punch to almost any meal.
You can get creative and add some diced fresh tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts or any kind of cooked beans and a handful of fresh chopped herbs to this basic dish to create a quick, pretty, refreshing marinated salad for potlucks, picnics and summertime side-dishes. Crunch on and enjoy!
Crunchy, Easy, Refrigerator Pickled Cucumbers & Red Onions
6 to 8 small Asian or Persian cucumbers, sliced about 3/4 inch (leave peel on)
1 small red onion, peeled and sliced thin, pulled apart in strands
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup water
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
1 T. sea salt
T. dried dill (or 2 T. fresh chopped dill)
1 T. celery seed
1 T. black sesame seeds (optional)
Directions: Mix all of the above together in a dish with a lid. Let the mixture sit on the counter , with lid on top, at room temperature for about an hour and then put in fridge to chill until ready to serve. (Let the veggies marinate at least 3 hours for the best flavor through-out.) Will keep in fridge up to a week, maintaining its crunch.
Although it is raining today, just a few days ago this was the view from my backyard porch swing in Denver Colorado.
And yes, that probably is a yellow flower blooming from big toe — because that is just how happy I am to finally see Spring come to the Rockies.
With the coming of warm weather, I get to dust off the ol’ grill and make some of my favorite summer recipes. This easy recipe for steak marinade works just as well for chicken breasts. The longer you let the beef or chicken bathe in the bag, the happier it gets, but for the steak even four hours will do the trick.
Years ago when I had more energy, lots of kids and a big need for income, I was a caterer and this recipe for marinated chicken or steak was my number one, never fail, go-to main dish. People loved it and requested it again and again!
I am not sure why but it really does bring out the most tender flavor in grilled meat. It is not overly sweet either, as some teriyaki marinated meats tend to be — but just the right the balance. The pineapple juice adds a touch of flavor, but it is a fresh and light background note. Doesn’t cloyingly ring of pineapple.
Nothing says, “Summer is on its way!” like the smell of food on the grill, and a gathering of friends on the porch. This would be absolutely perfect to make for Mother’s Day, which is coming up soon. And by the way, if you are looking for a pretty perfect Mother’s Day Gift — something to entertain and inspire and cheer your mom (or your wife or your daughter or grandmother, or your daughter is now a mom herself), may we recommend a copy of We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook?
For any of you who may live near Alexandria, Indiana (or know someone who does), Rachel and I will be speaking and doing a food demonstration at the Annual Spring Tea, this Saturday May 13, 2014, at 11:00 at Gaither Family Resources. (Click on the link “Gaither Family Resources” and scroll down to the Spring Tea information box for ticket prices and the number to call to make reservations.) We would love to see you, hug your neck and possibly sign a book for you or your mother in person! Ya’ll come!
Juicy, Grilled Pineapple Teriyaki Flank Steak
1 flank steak
Grill Seasoning, about a teaspoon (or enough to season both sides of the steak)
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/2 cup pineapple juice (or drain the juice from a can of pineapple rings)
1 T. olive oil
2 T. Worcestershire Sauce
2 large cloves of garlic, smashed with side of knife
Oil for grill pan, if cooking indoors
Season both sides of a flank steak with Grill Seasoning (or salt, pepper and garlic powder). Add the rest of the ingredients to a large, Ziploc bag and carefully squeeze the contents to mix. Place the flank steak in the bag of marinade, seal the bag then squeeze and turn the bag to coat both sides of the steak. Put in fridge to marinate, turning once or twice in the process and marinate anywhere from four to 10 hours.
Fire up the outdoor grill or use a grill pan over high heat (put a little olive oil in the pan if cooking indoors). Place steak on the grill and sear one side until golden brown with nice dark grill marks. Turn over and grill the other side. Then cover the grill pan or close the grill and let it cook for another minute or two. Remove and put on a plate, cover the meat with foil and let it sit so that juices distribute throughout the meat. While the meat is sitting, lightly grill small slices of pineapple (fresh or canned), and bring the leftover marinade to a boil. Spoon some of the marinade over the steak and decorate with pineapple to show it off! When you are ready to serve, remove pineapple slices, cut the steak in thin slices across the grain, giving each person a pineapple half and a drizzle of sauce.
The nice thing about serving a big piece of steak like this is that you serve the outer slices to those who prefer their meat more done, and for those who prefer their meat more on the rare side, serve them slices from the middle of the steak.
Depending on the size of the steak, it will usually feed anywhere from 4 to six people. Delicious with rice or mashed potatoes or pasta; a green salad or steamed/roasted green veggie is tasty and beautiful.
(Becky, the Mama.)
Departing from recipes for yummy healthy food, I had to offer this recipe for nourishing relationships –especially after reading some fascinating research making the news today.
I love it when science finally catches up with my long-held theories. In my experience, the happiest marriages I have seen have been marriages of two optimists. A new study out of the University of Michigan has found this to be true, with some additional benefits as well: “Having an optimistic spouse predicted better mobility and fewer chronic illnesses over time, even above and beyond a person’s own level of optimism. The study tracked adults over age 50 for four years and reported on their mobility, health and number of chronic illnesses.”
There is a growing body of research shows that the people in our lives can have a profoundly positive influence on our health and well-being, but this is the “first study to show that someone’s else optimism could be impacting your own health.”
The opposite has already proven to be true. In the book I co-wrote with Dr. Earl Henslin, This is Your Brain in Love, we spent a chapter warning of the health risks for a spouse who is married to an Eeyore-at-the-Core. As it turns out, depression and pessimism can be catching in marriages. A pessimist partner can pull their once-optimistic mate down into the mire of despondency as well, over time.
My husband, Greg, easily qualifies as one of the most perpetually upbeat, positive people I have ever known. Being married to him these past ten years has easily been the most joyful time of my life, thus far. Until I married Greg, I assumed what so many of us hear: “Marriage is hard work.” It was certainly my experience until I married Mr. Positive, later in life.
This doesn’t mean our life has been easy. As a couple, Greg and I have been through some terrible trials and sorrowful times, but 99% of these times were due to difficulties outside our marriage. My husband has always been my safest haven, and inside his arms is the Happiest Place on Earth. He tells me often that “Loving you, Becky, is the easiest thing I have ever done.” We each brought our own naturally sunny temperaments into our union, and the resulting happiness has been significant.
I must confess, however, that this past year brought a season of profound grief as we suffered the loss of a precious and significant relationship in our family. It was my first experience with months of chronic “situational depression” and it took its toll on both of our normal levels of joy. In fact, we both experienced significant stress-related health issues as a result. Thankfully, the worst of this sorrow is fading — and as we are both prioritizing a “return to joy,” we are experiencing more emotionally sunny days again, and our good health has also returned.
A close friend of mine went from a painful marriage to a classic Eeyore, to marriage to a man who took responsibility for his own joy and took difficulties in stride. Like Greg, her husband saw the best in my friend and downplayed her flaws. We conversed about this one day over the phone. Both of us, stuck in amazement, were having the same reaction: “Wow. Love can be easy? Really?”
We decided right then, if we were to give young women and men advice on who to marry in order to enjoy their life to the hilt; both of us would say, “Marry a guy who makes his own sunshine. Love a person you can lean on for both comfort and joy. Marry a woman who smiles a lot, who has a reputation for kindness and optimism. If you want a happy marriage, do all you can to be a happy person and marry a naturally happy partner.”
(If being positive and joyful is a struggle for you, I would unabashedly recommend the books I wrote with Dr. Henslin a few years ago: This is Your Brain on Joy and This is Your Brain in Love. And if you want to read something humorous and uplifting, that will just generally add to your joy bank, I gotta recommend We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook!)
My parents, blissfully married almost 60 years now, are living examples of the fun, health, and longevity that comes from a union of two natural optimists.
A few years ago I came across a old poem that sounded as if it were written for my husband. I want to share it here as a toast to those people in our lives who are “pleasant to live with” and bring us joy, comfort and, as the latest research shows, good health as well!
(I dedicate this poem to my husband, Greg; my father, George; my mother, Ruthie; my sister, Rachel Ann; my daughter (and co-blogger and co-writer), Rachel Praise and her happy husband, Jared; to my youngest son, Gabe and his cheerful bride-to-be, Aleks – people in my family who are the epitome of this poem in my life, who beckon me onward and upward, consistently, to The Sunny Side of the Street. I love you all!)
Blessed Are They
Blessed are they who are pleasant to live with –
Blessed are they who sing in the morning;
Whose faces have smiles for their early adorning;
Who come down to breakfast companioned by cheer;
Who don’t dwell on troubles or entertain fear;
Whose eyes smile forth bravely; whose lips curve to say:
“Life, I salute you! Good morrow, new day!”
Blessed are they who are pleasant to live with –
Blessed are they who treat one another,
Though merely a sister, a father or brother,
With the very same courtesy they would extend
To a casual acquaintance or dearly loved friend;
Who choose for the telling encouraging things;
Who choke back the bitter, the sharp word that stings;
Who bestow love on others through the long day –
Pleasant to live with and blessed are they. Wilhemina Stitch
Hello, again! We’ve missed you!
Rachel and I took a short Spring Sabbatical after an intense few months of finishing up the manuscript for our next book. The title of the book is Nourished: A Search for Health, Happiness and a Full Night’s Sleep. (It will be released next January, with Zondervan Publishers.) We decided to take some of our own advice in the book, and take a little time off to nourish ourselves — to rest, spend time with family and friends we ignored as we typed away to meet our deadline, and let our brains lie fallow for a bit.
I am spending my 55th birthday in sunny Phoenix this week, a treat and restoration to my soul, especially for this heat-seeking girl who has been stuck in cold, snowy Denver this Spring. I love Denver, but “Spring” only lasts one month in Denver: May. Which means our winter, though often mild and sunny, is long and brown. My eyes are drinking up the bright colors of emerald green and the colorful flowers of purple, scarlet, yellow and orange in warm Arizona.
It has taken a little while, but my desire to cook and to blog has returned. A good sign that my brain has rested enough to access some creative neurons again.
And so this brings us today’s recipe for Butternut Squash and Cranberry Nut Quinoa.
I will admit it. I came late to the Quinoa party. In fact, for a long time, I had a fear of cooking quinoa.
But now, thanks to my daughter’s encouragement and my rice maker (and in a pinch, my microwave) quinoa is my new best friend. I make up a batch at the beginning of the week and keep it in sealed in plasticware , and then toss the fluffy, protein rich, poppy stuff into all sorts of goodies. I love making wraps and burritos with fresh tortillas, quinoa, leftover veggies or tidbits of meat or beans and salsa. (Be sure to check out this recipe for Quinoa Mango Black Bean Burrito.)
For quick lunches, I will often make a layered “bowl” (on a theme similar to the popular 7 layered Mexican “dip”). hummus or refried beans in the bottom of the bowl, followed by quinoa and chopped fresh veggies: yesterday I topped my quinoa- bean bowl with chopped avocado, tomatoes, green onion and cilantro, then gave it all a drizzle of balsamic dressing and ate it with pita chips. (Tortilla chips also work great.)
There there is the ever popular side dish. I made this combination of quinoa with butternut squash and dried cranberries last week, and it reminded me of Thanksgiving…. and was wonderful alongside slices of rotisserie chicken.
Butternut Squash & Cranberry Nut Quinoa
3 cups of cooked quinoa (Click on link to see Rachel’s easy directions for Red Pepper Quinoa. If you cook it with veggie or chicken broth, it adds another layer of yummy flavor. 1 cup dried quinoa will yield 3 cups cooked.)
1 1/2 cups of cooked, diced butternut squash or sweet potatoes (If you have time to roast the diced squash or sweet potatoes in a little olive oil, on a sheet pan, at 350 for about 15 minutes, this adds a nice caramalization and firmness. If you are in a hurry, you can quickly microwave a package of frozen butternut squash.)
1/2 c. dried cranberries or cherries
1/2 c. toasted nuts (slivered almonds, pecans, walnuts or pine nuts are all delicious)
Optional: 1/4 cup feta or goat cheese or blue cheese crumbled
1/4 cup balsamic dressing, your favorite brand (or to your taste )
1/2 t. ground sage
Salt & Pepper to taste
Gently toss together all the ingredients, while warm, in a bowl. Serve and enjoy!